Thoughts on travel

This summer I will be spending two weeks away from home, during which time I will spend a fair amount of time on aeroplanes (two international flights, plus two local Canadian flights) and in hotels. I am quite used to hotels, and carry around a fair amount of technology designed for hotel living, but this trip is going to be more challenging, and I think I need to plan in advance what clothes, accessories and gadgets I need to keep me productive and connected throughout such a long trip.

My hand luggage usually contains my 11″ Macbook Air, plus my iPhone, Kindle, and associated chargers. I also carry a UK 3G dongle, and several USB drives (including one I can reinstall my Mac from should I need to). I sometimes also carry various adaptors and cables, depending on where I am travelling and what I am there to do. I also plan on taking plug adaptors for any country I will be visiting, chargers for all my devices, and an additional device to charge my phone if a plug socket isn’t available.

Usually I don’t take a bootable clone of my laptop with me, because it makes more sense to keep my backup drive somewhere safe whilst I am travelling. For a two week trip I may invest in a new external drive though, or will at least have a smaller USB drive with a bootable installation of OSX with my settings and applications intact – just in case of emergencies. I should also look at how often I think I will be able to get online in Canada, and perhaps pick up a cheap pay-as-you-go 3G device to cover any shortfall.

I will also have my old iPod with me as a backup music device, and will also wear a watch rather than relying on my phone to tell the time. Time keeping is even more important on trips which involve a lot of travelling between places, and I need to make sure any timekeeping anxiety is minimised.

I also plan on packing slightly differently for this trip. Part of the reason for travelling is a family wedding, and so I need to make sure I have smart clothes with me. I will fly in the usual combination of loose many-pocketed combats with no belt, slip-on shoes, and a loose cotton shirt. But I will also style the rest of my wardrobe around things that can be work with a suit jacket and/or waistcoat. This should cut down on luggage, and ensure that everything can be worn with everything else.

I also plan on packing a second bag for the shorter (English) section of my trip, and arranging for it to be waiting for me when I get back to the UK. That way I am not carting things all over the world that I won’t need until the last few days of my trip.

Yes, I’m not travelling for ages, but I find it is useful to have these thoughts sufficiently early enough to do something about anything I may have forgotten.

All roads lead to Rhodes

I’m currently on holiday in Rhodes. I’ve just finished the 7th book I’ve read since I got here, and I’m really appreciating having the Kindle with me as it has quickly become an important part of the technology I carry with me when I travel. It’s interesting to see what the other guests are using actually – there are a few laptops, lots of phones, but not much in the way of kindles or other ebook readers. A fair few people are accessing the internet from the hotel lobby, and it is certainly more socially acceptable to do so then it was a few years ago, although some older people still blatantly disapprove.┬áThere are also many many internet cafes in the general vicinity, and I get the feeling that although this is a sleepy tourist area it is also fairly well connected. The signal here is strong, and the speed is comparable to UK broadband.

I carry technology with me wherever I travel. I don’t always take the full range of devices, but I generally have something to read, something to listen to music on, and some sort of communication device at the very least. I actually find that being able to access my books and my music relaxes me, and I do enjoy having internet access when I’m away as it allows me to research what the weather will be like, and what local customs I need to be aware of. On this trip I’ve limited my net access to one session a day (usually around an hour), but in that time I’ve researched what I need to research, as well as reading (if not replying to) all personal email and skimming through articles of interest from my growing list of RSS feeds. It interests me that this activity takes less than an hour a day, because when I’m at home it often takes significantly longer.

Happy Christmas from New York

We are now in New York.

Wednesday was a very long day. We got up at 3:30am UK time, and didn’t arrive at our hotel until the sort of time we would normally be thinking of going to bed. Despite this, we went to Starbucks for a coffee (there are no coffee making facilities in our room), and then wandered to Times Square to look at the pretty lights and generally marvel at how big and alive everything feels. We then went to the restaurant next to our hotel to grab food and drink before getting a stupidly early night (8pm NY time, which felt like 1am).

Thursday (Christmas Eve) involved a lot of shopping (or rather wandering around shops and not buying a lot). We also saw lots of Christmas celebrations which made me realise how bad the UK is at celebrating Christmas. I managed to stay up until 10pm, and seem to have slipped back into a half decent sleeping pattern.

Today (so far) we have wandered around Central Park, taken lots of photographs, and eaten delicious bagels. Tomorrow we plan on doing more shopping (proper shopping this time) along with a visit to the Museum of Modern Art to see Tim Burton’s exhibition.

All in all, I think I like this city. Some things about it are strange though. I really like the hotel we’re in, but it does lack a bar (there is a mini bar, but with no price list I’m not risking it), and we could really do with a way to make coffee in the room. On the bright side, we’re a stones throw from Starbucks and about 20 places to eat and drink, so it’s hardly a massive chore to go out, explore, and try out lots of different nice food (on Wednesday I had the best pizza I’ve had for ages, and everything we’ve eaten so far has been great).

The first batch of photos should be on Facebook soon.

Finding wifi on the move

During my recent trip to London, I decided that I’d try and stay online as much as possible, whilst at the same time not paying for (or in fact stealing) an internet connection. It was actually a lot easier than I thought, and made me realise that if I lived in London I’d not really need a 3G dongle or an internet capable phone in order to conduct my online life on the move.

What I found out was largely as follows:

The hotel I was staying in advertised itself as having free wifi on the ground floor. It did, but the signal was no greater than 40%, and as I was on the 7th floor I had to come down to the bar to use it. This was fine, and I used this for my morning and evening email sessions.

There are lots of University buildings in London, some of whom subscribe to the JANET Roaming Service. As I’m a member of a participating University I can use their networks for free. This got me a connection on floor 7 of the hotel twice, and would have been an option in a couple of other places as well.

The rest of the time I generally used The Cloud, mostly in or around Pret A Manger stores. It’s possible to get free wifi in a fair few places (largely pubs and cafes), and my most productive session of the whole trip was the last hour outside Euston station where I got through all my home and work email with a near 100% signal.

So yes, I managed to stay up to date, and maintained Inbox Zero throughout the trip.

What we did on our holidays

Tuesday 19th August, 8:00 PM

The start of the road trip.

We checked into the Premier Inn earlier this evening. It’s a really nice hotel, is close to the airport, and does a really nice steak and ale pie. They have reasonably priced internet access too, but as we have to go to sleep soon and will have to leave by 3:30am then I don’t think it’s really worth it.

Tomorrow we leave for Italy. I’m really looking forward to this trip, and also to spending a week relaxing with my lovely new wife (I don’t think I’ll ever tire of typing that).

Wednesday 20th August, 5:22 AM

I’m sitting in Frankie and Benny’s at Birmingham International Airport, having just had a huge breakfast. We’ve been up since 3am, but so far I feel rested, unlike Steph who had several nightmares and didn’t sleep a great deal. It is times like these that I value my ability to sleep (and wake) at any time of the day.

Still no free wireless access to anything but the airport’s own web site, but that in itself is useful.

Thursday 21st August, 12:00 local time

We’ve now been in Italy over 24 hours, and are both enjoying it greatly. We arrived in Verona on time yesterday, and travelled to Peschiera by coach. The apartment we’re staying in is gorgeous, with tiled floors throughout, a large balcony, and most importantly air conditioning. It’s been 35 degrees here for huge portions of yesterday and today, and it’s really good to come back to something a little cooler when we want to eat and sleep.

One downside is that the plug adaptors we were sold in the UK to use on this trip actually don’t work in Italy (we did ask – they lied). I’m running my laptop off batteries at present, so I’m hoping to pick up an adaptor in the next 24 hours.

We opted for self catering so we could properly experience living in Italy. Yesterday we bought huge amounts of ingredients, and have cooked one proper meal and three snack meals already. Food is quite reasonably priced, and wine is very cheap (3 euros for a decent bottle of red), so hopefully we should be able to survive on the money we bought over with us.

I think we’ve finally caught up on sleep now, after only getting a few hours the night before. Both Steph and I woke around 9, so I think we managed 11 hours each yesterday.

Plans for the next few days involve exploring Peschiera town centre later, Verona all day Sunday and Venice on Monday. We’ve taken a few photographs already, and will probably take lots more over the next few days. One thing we have photographed lots already is the cute lizards that live near where we are staying. They are everywhere and are fascinating to watch.

I will hopefully write more when I have a reliable power supply for my laptop.

Thursday 21st August, 23:00 local time

Talking of which, the hotel loaned us an adaptor, so we can now charge the EeePC, DS Lite, and various other bits of tech we have with us.

Tonight we went into Peschiera for pizza, red wine, and an evening of soaking up the atmosphere when it was under 35 degrees (also known as dark). Both food and wine were good, and the whole meal cost under 25 euros, which is a lot less than it would cost in the UK. We’ve also booked onto a wine tour on Saturday as well as the Verona and Venice trips.

Friday 22nd August, 17:32 local time

Today we travelled by boat to the town of Bardolino, which is where a lot of the wine we have drunk this week was made. The boat journey was very pleasant, and an hour after leaving Peschiera we arrived in Bardolino in the blistering heat. Most of our time there was spent having a very long lunch (with coffee and wine), but we did manage a walk along the lakeside which nearly killed us (yes, 35 degrees again today).

We have taken a lot of photographs so far. I’ve backed up the first batch onto my laptop in case we drop the camera in the lake or some other such misdemeanor.

Tonight I plan on cooking either pasta or risotto with the vegetables we have left. I don’t plan on doing a lot more than that until it gets cooler.

We’ve been here three days now, and I’m totally relaxed. This bodes well for the rest of the holiday.

Sunday 24th August, 8:25 local time

Yesterday we went on what was billed as a “wine tour”. It was actually a drive to a castle in the hills, complete with thunder, lightening, and torrential rain. We got to taste 4 local wines, and did get a whole large glass of each, so by the time we finished we were getting rather tipsy, but there was bread, cheese and meat to go with it which at least soaked up some of the wine.

There were lots of British tourist types on the wine tour who were complaining about the rain. They seemed to think it never rains in Italy for some reason, and thought they might catch hypothermia in temperatures warmer than the UK average. I think they may have been mistaken.

Afterwards we went out for dinner, and had pasta dishes and more wine. I think we probably had 9 glasses each over the course of the day so we should probably take it easy today.

We head off to Verona in an hour or so, and then to Venice tomorrow. We have taken over a hundred photographs already, with hopefully many more to come.

Sunday 24th August, 22:38 local time

Today we went to Verona, and then out for a posh restaurant meal. In Verona, we visited:

  • Arena (a large amphitheatre)
  • Casa di Giulietta (the house of Juliette)
  • Tomba di Giulietta (the tomb of Juliette with added Christian art)
  • Museo Lapidario (museum of Greek and Roman stuff)

We also had lunch in a nice cafe.

In the evening we went to a lovely restaurant, and had fish, salad, and amazing wine. We are now drinking more wine back at the apartment, so I might have to rewrite this in the morning, if it ends up looking less than good.

Tuesday 26th August, 9:55 local time

Yesterday we spent the whole day in Venice, visiting Palazzo Ducale (palace of the Doge), seeing the sights, and eating a decent meal of lasagna and fish. My impression of Venice was that everything was overpriced, it was far too commercialised, but it still managed to be beautiful, stunning, and exactly what I hoped it would be. We arrived back just before midnight, drank a couple of glasses of wine, and then collapsed until 9am.

I’ve also transferred the 550 photographs we have taken so far to my laptop. I will post selections on Facebook at some point over the next week.

Tuesday 26th August, 19:33 local time

Today we returned to Bardolino by ferry, and ate the hugest plate of salami and other cooked meat that I have ever seen. The boats were running on “Italian time” today, so it took us ages to get back.

We return home tomorrow. I’m looking forward to getting home, but have had an amazing holiday.